Biblyon Broadsides

Gods & Monsters news and old-school gaming notes.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons
Biblyon, Highland
Saturday, December 10, 1988
Jerry Stratton, Ed.
Was table-top gaming inevitable?—Monday, October 22nd, 2018
Runequest cover

Today, Gods & Monsters in its public form turned 18. On October 22, 2000, I posted a link to “The Game” on rec.games.frp.misc asking for Blues Brothers-style constructive criticism. Eighteen, of course, is only significant in gaming terms or adulthood, and in the former case only for those games that use 3d6 for stats. Combined with a sad event from two weeks ago, it has me thinking again about role-playing history and how lucky we are to have had Dungeons & Dragons in particular and tabletop fantasy roleplaying in general.

The other event is that Greg Stafford died on October 12. He founded the Chaosium in 1975 to publish his fantasy board game. Through it he published, in 1978, the highly influential RuneQuest game, set in the highly influential Glorantha world, which used the same world that his earlier board game did.

It is hard for someone who wasn’t quite there—I started gaming in 1981—to describe just how influential Glorantha and RuneQuest was, the idea of basing the rules on the setting.

In his tribute to Stafford, Zenopus relates a fascinating and telling story about how Greg Stafford was introduced to D&D:

I used to work for Bergamot Brass Works, a belt buckle company out of Lake Geneva, WI after high school. Real hippy job. I'd take buckles, hitch hike around and sell them to shops, etc. After a while, though, I moved to California. My friend of the time remained there, selling buckles (we were called Buckle-itis).

Through various circumstances I'd decided to publish my first boardgame, White Bear & Red Moon, on my own. As I was finishing up work on it, I got a package in the mail from my old partner Jeff. His cover letter said, "I was picking up my catalogues from the printer the other day and there was this guy waiting for his stuff. I asked what it was, and he said it was a fantasy game. I said, 'Hey, my buddy in California is doing one too! Can I buy one from ya?'"

Of course the guy was happy to, and so Jeff sent me this strange little booklet called Dungeons & Dragons.

Well-behaved deities seldom make history—Wednesday, June 6th, 2018

I was inspired a few weeks ago to make a Gods & Monsters t-shirt out of Doré’s engraving of Moses breaking the tablets of the law. After a minor issue with the first batch, they are ready. I have one in white and one in ash grey.

It looks nice enough that it inspired me to finally open the Zazzle store I started back when I first published Gods & Monsters back in 2000. This means you can also purchase an “I survived Illustrious Castle” with the completely esoteric symbol of Eliazu on the front. I made up those shirts for the first group to go through Illustrious Castle in its Gods & Monsters form. I also made up shirts that said “I died in Illustrious Castle”. I don’t know what happened to them.

This page should automatically update with the latest Zazzle products, should there be any more.

Well-behaved deities (ash)
Well-behaved deities seldom make history, a t-shirt in ash.
Well-behaved deities (white)
Well-behaved deities seldom make history. A t-shirt in white.
I survived Illustrious Castle t-shirt
From the time capsule, a never-before-released shirt from 2000 or so. I distributed these to the first players who went through Illustrious Castle (and survived).
Can I legally use Gary Gygax’s name for my son?—Saturday, April 1st, 2017
Too Much of the Stupid

There may not be such a thing as a stupid question, but the world is awash in stupid answers. (R.K. Milholland)

My wife and I are going to have a son in May, and since we met while playing Dungeons and Dragons, we’d like to name him Gary. Is that legal? Can we do this?

First, congratulations on the successful character creation process. It can take a long time, but it’s also a lot of fun and very rewarding.

The short version is that names like Gary and Dave appear to be available for use, but tread carefully. This is a very gray area. Before you name your child anything, you should talk to a lawyer. And I don’t mean a rules lawyer!

The name “Gary” may be so common that it’s difficult to defend, but you could always use a similar name, such as Garry. The extra ‘r’ makes it look archaic, and a lot of people would get the wink-wink-nudge-nudge true source of the name. Even though the name is nearly identical, Hasbro might consider it small enough that it isn’t worth acting on the infringement. The usual advice I give, however, is that if you’re not certain, avoid the issue. Some other common name ought to be in the clear1, but copying D&D’s creator, while a very light shade of gray, means you’ll be dealing with Hasbro lawyers.

It’s always in your best interest to avoid encounters with the dreaded 12 HD Lawyer Dragon!

Short of talking to a lawyer (which is always a good idea when worrying about legal issues such as naming your child) it might be helpful to look at what other people have done. Paul Francis Gladd named himself Gary around the same time that Gary Gygax wrote Dungeons and Dragons with Dave Arneson. But he suffered legally from 1997 on. A city in Indiana capitalized on its nearness to D&D’s Gencon conference by naming itself “Gary”, but the city’s population has dropped precipitously since Dungeons & Dragons’ popularity rose. After several lawsuits, they’ve nearly gone broke.

Gary Gilmore ended up going to court and was shot by a firing squad just three years after D&D was published. The punishments courts can levy for copyright infringement are often severe, and I’m sure you’d agree you don’t want to inflict them on your son.

Your safest course of action would be to choose a completely different name, but if your heart is set on honoring the D&D founder, you might try a homonym such as Gharee, Garrie, or Gayri. Bearing a unique name will also give doughty young Gayri the respect of his classmates when he reaches school age.

North Texas RPG Con Event: House on Crane Hill—Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
Belle Grove through cypress

Welcome to Delarosa Manor. Some houses were born evil…

If you can make it to the North Texas RPG Convention on Saturday, June 3, I’ll be running a game of Gods & Monsters. The event is “House on Crane Hill”. As I write this, there are three earlybird tickets available, and there will be four free tickets available on April 15 at midnight.

Assuming you have an account on the NTRPGC sign-up site and are logged in, here’s the event page.

The adventure will use pre-gens at first level. Bring dice, pencils, and your Barrett’s Electromagnetic Field Generator.

Crane House is an idea I’ve been working on for quite a while now. Tell me if you’ve heard this story: a hand-selected research group is chosen to spend a week investigating an abandoned house known for its supernatural activities. But this is no ordinary haunting.

No living organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Thus Shirley Jackson began The Haunting of Hill House. Many movies and books about malleable haunted houses and malleable realities have inspired this adventure. The first such story I read was in issues 34 to 37 of Werewolf by Night in Marcosa House (available in Essential Werewolf by Night, volume 2). Doug Moench’s Marcosa House was heavily influenced by Richard Matheson’s Hell House (and the movie, The Legend of Hell House). Matheson, along with half the works listed here, was inspired by The Haunting of Hill House (which became the 1963 Robert Wise film, The Haunting).

Nothing will be restrained from them, which they imagine to do—Saturday, December 24th, 2016
Basic D&D

Merry Christmas from 1981!

A while back, Erik Bader wrote on Google+:

I finally dug out my beat up old 1st ed PHB for a decades-later reread and I was surprised to realize most of the rules to actually play the game aren’t in there! You can’t really roll up a character (the instructions it says are in the DMG) and you can’t hit a monster (again, in the DMG).

Now, the DMG didn’t come out for what… a year or more later, correct? What the heck did players in 1978 do with this book in the meantime? 

As I recall, the only piece of information really necessary from the DMG for creating characters was how to roll stats, and I expect players in 1978 just continued to roll stats however they rolled them before, probably without evening noticing it was missing. I know I had trouble separating “what we did” with “what the rules were” back then whenever playing in a new game group.

I came a little after 1978, but had a limited budget. So our group used Holmes (our DM, who introduced us to the game, already had it) and the PHB1, and never noticed anything odd with that. At the time, we were overcome by a spirit of discovery and creation. It was all about “what can we do next”, not “what’s holding us back.” We barely if at all noticed anything holding us back.

It wasn’t just us in our little gaming subculture that people felt that way; it was in many ways a spirit of the times. Many of my friends were out in their garages forcing their cars to do things the manufacturers never intended them to do. In Ham Radio and CB Radio no rig was complete without some customization to take it up to 11.

And, closer to home, it was very much a programmer’s perspective, and of course many of us were also amateur programmers at the time, on a TRS-80 Model I, Apple ][, Atari 400, Commodore 64, TI99/4 or so on. Those computers really couldn’t do much, but that’s not the way we looked at them. We were always on the lookout for what more can we do? It’s absolutely amazing the kind of video game clones we got on those old computers. The TRS-80 Model I was black and white, with 128x48 “pixels”—that’s like playing a game on a four-tenths-inch by one-tench-inch square of my current mobile phone—and yet we managed to have fun playing Pac-Man clones, Armored Patrol clones, Space Invaders, and much more.

The text adventure craze came about because it provided great game play beyond the limits of the actual hardware of the time. If the computer’s graphics didn’t match what our brains expected, we would harness our brains to create what graphics we wanted.

Which is, of course, a lot like tabletop roleplaying.

First level calculations in Pocket Gods—Saturday, January 16th, 2016

I’ve just added a new feature to the Pocket Gods mobile app. It does a quick calculation for all the “good numbers” that first-level characters need: reactions, movement, carry, etc.

And as a caveat, I have tested it on various desktop browsers, but for mobile devices only on my own iPad and iPhone. Because it’s just an HTML5 app (HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS), you should be able to use it on any computer with a browser, whether your computer is a desktop workstation, a tablet, or a phone. In each case, the app will work even if you don’t have Internet. Just save it when you do have Internet and it will be available later. It should also automatically update when new features are added or old bugs fixed.

I resisted an automated calculator for a long time, partly because I worry that having a calculator will encourage more pointlessly complex calculations on my part, but mostly because I think it’s a good idea for players to know what goes into their scores. I’ve tried to keep character generation relatively simple; it’s more complex than OD&D and BX, and depending on how you look at it less complex than AD&D with its calculations scattered throughout the books.

I have several times seriously considered just going back to the AD&D method of pushing these calculations into gameplay. Except for verve, mojo, and movement (and one reaction depending on how you look at it), all of these calculations have a counterpart in AD&D. Part of my design goal for Gods & Monsters was to avoid spreading those calculations through both time and space.

For example, saving rolls were modified by abilities; we just did the calculation at the time the saving roll was made, usually involving a table lookup since the modifiers were different depending on the ability. The saving roll targets themselves were on another table in the Dungeon Masters Guide. Technically they were supposed to be secret, but in practice what this meant was that after a couple of sessions our DM told us to write down our saving rolls so that play could go faster.

Encumbrance was always used and always ignored at the same time: at some point, the DM would marvel at all the stuff we were carrying and tell us it was time we started tracking encumbrance. That’s a big reason for why the encumbrance system in Gods & Monsters is so simple, just the number of items the character is able to carry. Because it was very simple in AD&D up until it was very complex.

Drinking from the campaign firehose—Wednesday, April 15th, 2015
Chariot of the Sun

This looks more like the chariot of the moon to me, Giulio.

Here’s a neat variation for The Vale of the Azure Sun based on a trick from Josh Gregal: for characters who take a ride with the Blue Sun, rather than a perception roll to know any answer, give them thirty seconds with all of your campaign notes: the Blue Sun adventure itself, all of the adventures they’ve already run through, whatever world notes or book you use, and all of the adventures you’re thinking of running. If you keep a campaign diary, include that as well.

In Josh’s game, this was the result of “releasing hundreds of years of magical witch smoke at once” by “[boiling] the tent of a powerful witch in order to make an ingredient of Milk of the Crone”.

…the cauldron they were using grew a face, arms and legs, stood up, started screaming “oh no!” and busting through walls. Since I figured they would chase it down to subdue it, I prepared a random table to determine what happens when somebody gets the cauldron’s liquid on them. I stole an idea from The Dungeon Dozen by Jason Sholtis and let a player peruse all of my notes (campaign binder, a tablet with all my stuff in Evernote, and the pocket notebook I carry with me) for 30 seconds after some fluid got in her character’s mouth.

The effect was like drinking from a firehose and I don't think she actually gleaned any info!

The point here is to emulate dangerous cosmic insight by inundating them with far too much stuff in far too little time. If some of your notes are handwritten and your handwriting sucks, all the better!

Searchable spell list and new Arcane Lore, and contest!—Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

I’ve finally updated Arcane Lore to use the new format, which means it now has more linkable HTML and better PDFs. As part of that, I converted all of the spells to a database, and have made that database searchable on Sorceror spells.

Since sorcerors collect their spells in books, as opposed to prophets who categorize them by spirits, I have plans to add the ability to remember and then save spell books, and possibly add the ability to use the database offline. That’s a long ways into the future, however, certainly not until I get Arcane Lore up again on Lulu.

The resources file for Arcane Lore remains basically the same, gaining only a sword photo. Specialties have been made more readable by putting them into two columns though they’ll certainly get further formatting changes to make them stand apart more.

Because the online spell database is searchable by level, I’ve made the printed spell list purely alphabetical, to make it easier to find spells by name during a game, without having to know the level or school.

To celebrate the database, I have added two spells to the list: Wizard’s Eye and Wizard’s Hand.

Contest! I have over the years acquired extra copies of several issues of the old Judges Guild magazine Pegasus. If you have made your own spells and are willing to give them away for nothing, add your best to the comments below for me to add to the database and to Arcane Lore.

Since February is already almost over, on March 31 I will choose one submitter at random to get issue 121. Besides the many wonders that Judges Guild products have to offer, this issue includes the spells Minor Waldo, which inspired me to create the Wizard’s Eye, Wizard’s Ear, and Wizard’s Hand spells just now; and Disbelieve Reality which is one of my favorite spells from the old-school era. It has already inspired a Gods & Monsters spell.

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